LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Reds didn’t make any moves as Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline came and went Wednesday but they are closer to getting two key team members back from injury.
Left fielder Ryan Ludwick and right-handed reliever Jonathan Broxton are mending their way back the big leagues with the Triple-A Louisville Bats.
Broxton started the first game of a doubleheader against Syracuse Wednesday night and pitched his first inning since going on the disabled list June 15 with a flexor mass strain in his right elbow. He gave up three singles in the first eight pitches he threw to load the bases but got out of the jam without giving up a run.
Ludwick has been on the DL since he tore the labrum in his right shoulder on Opening Day sliding head-first into third base. He went 0-for-3, grounding out to second base, shortstop and third base, in a 3-1 Louisville loss in the first game. He did not play in the nightcap.
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The Reds were expecting Ludwick to be their cleanup hitter this season after he hit 26 home runs and drove in 80 runs in 125 games with them last season. Ludwick added three more home runs and four RBI in the playoffs against San Francisco. Wednesday was his sixth game in the rehab process. He was unable to do any baseball-specific drills like swinging a bat or throwing a ball for more than three months.
Labeling this as another Spring Training for Ludwick doesn’t do the journey justice. Players getting ready for Spring Training don’t take three months off prior.
“Obviously the competitor in me is trying to push it along because I want to get there as soon as possible,” said Ludwick. “But in the back of my mind I also know that this is a process and I’ve been out for a long time and I need to be right before I go up there because if I’m not I don’t want to go up there and stink and hurt the team.”
Ludwick, 35, had the first of his now six career surgeries when he was 23. The one positive to that is he understands his body, how it responds to rehab and how far he can push it. He said he hasn’t had any pain in his shoulder, although he has had expected soreness. It also allows him to keep the fact that he is now just 2-of-15 with four walks in perspective.
“I was so used to being immobile for so long in that sling, I think that’s just kind of it,” said Ludwick. “The theme I’m looking at when I’m analyzing myself as far as at-bat to at-bat I’m analyzing the way I’m seeing the ball. Am I swinging at bad pitches? I’ve probably only swung at three or four pitches out of the zone, which is a plus. I’m drawing walks, which means I’m seeing the ball.”
Broxton’s bases loaded situation turned a routine rehab assignment into a genuine test. He threw 24 pitches in the inning, 18 of them for strikes. The only hard hit ball among the three hits was a line drive single just over the glove of leaping third baseman Henry Rodriguez, while Eury Perez and Danny Espinosa had a pair of ground ball singles.
“I could have had three outs in eight pitches and been down in the bullpen throwing some more,” said Broxton.
Instead he got cleanup hitter Tyler Moore to pop out to first baseman Mike Hessman and then struck out Cory Brown and Zach Walters. He mixed up his pitches – fastball, slider, curve, sinker – and was consistently in the mid 90s with his hard stuff. He topped out his fastball at 97 mph.
“Everything felt like I could throw it where I wanted to,” said Broxton. “It tested it out. I got the bases loaded and had to bear down. I made some good pitches when I needed to. I felt good today, no problem right now so we’ll see how tomorrow goes.”
Broxton appears closer to returning to the Reds than Ludwick, although there is no timetable for when either will be back in Cincinnati. The Reds are more in need of a consistent bat than they are of another arm, although they’ll gladly welcome back both when healthy. In some respects it could be considered their return is like getting a newly traded player, but Ludwick doesn’t see it that way.
“Our team has been playing well. I’ve heard a lot of the cries for help because we’re in third place in our division but in actuality I think our record is right around the same clip we were last year. It’s not like we’re playing bad baseball as a team,” said Ludwick. “I’ve been part of the team since Day One. I’m not a new player.”
“I feel like the guys that have filled in for me in left field, whether it be Heisey, D-Rob, X, Lutzie, whoever has been up there at any point in time this year has done a pretty good job. I’m definitely not going up there to rattle any cages. I’m just going to be the guy I was last year. I have fun in the clubhouse. I keep everyone awake and alive, on their toes, be excited to be on the field and try to win ball games.”